By Giles Hutchins
The transformational times in our midst demand that organizations redesign for resilience in order to flourish in the volatile times ahead.
The most important challenge facing leaders, strategists and operational managers in these times is a shift in logic from the outdated mindset of mechanistic, reductive, quantized, atomized, silo’ed, command-and-control thinking to a logic inspired by and in harmony with nature; this logic allows us to thrive during uncertainty by opening up to emerging futures through co-creativity, networking and reciprocity. Nature’s patterns, processes and inherent grammar display a universal wisdom that we’d do well to attune to.
We now know that life is neither innately selfish nor driven by dog-eat-dog competition. Nature is a rich interplay of reciprocity, networking, cooperation and competition. The evolutionary diversification of life is a dynamic process of co-creative influence, over vastly differing scales from microcosm to macrocosm.Whether it be at the places, products, processes, people or purpose dimensions within an organization, embracing nature’s wisdom helps organizations flourish in these volatile times. Let’s take a brief look at these organizational dimensions:
Places: There is a shift afoot from viewing the place of work as a static estate to viewing it as a healthy, vibrant place that adapts and responds to human nature and wider Nature. A design partner of Interface, David Oakley, notes: "Shape-shifting times call for inspired spaces that enable us to be connected yet distinct, like colors in a rainbow. Spaces that reflect our ability to adapt and bend and flex to meet today’s constant changes ensure our ability to survive and thrive."
Products: Product design inspired by nature is no longer niche, with a plethora of products across all sectors applying bio-inspired design from high-speed trains and airplane wing tips to mobile phone displays and smart-grid networks. As the late Steve Jobs said: "I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning."
Processes: Not only is the design process of products transforming, but also the product lifecycle from raw material to recycling and reuse. Industrial ecology and closed-loop economics are nature-inspired approaches taken up by many leading sustainable businesses. What is also apparent is a shift afoot from product-orientation to service-orientation, where product-based approaches are being transformed into services, in-so-doing radically transforming the value-add provision and the stakeholder relationships from one-off to on-going. As Paul Hawken, Amory and Hunter Lovins noted a few years back, the shift to a service economy reverses "age-old assumptions about growth: an economy where we grow by using less and less, and become stronger by being leaner."
People: People are perhaps the most complex part of an organization. Business inspired by nature creates the conditions conducive to collaboration, adaptability, creativity, local attunement, multi-functionality and responsiveness; hence, enhancing the evolution of organizations from rigid, tightly managed hierarchies to dynamic living organizations that thrive and flourish within ever-changing business, socio-economic and environmental conditions. People are emancipated from top-down bureaucracy and KPI-obsessed management to co-create within emergent yet purposeful teams.
Purpose: While, on the surface, diverse, interconnected, emergent organizations may appear more chaotic and difficult to manage, they are vibrant places for people to become self-empowered – self-managing through mutual understanding of correct behaviors rooted in core values and clarity of purpose. It is this shared value set of core ethics that ensures self-empowered diversity naturally emerges towards delivering the value creation goals of the organisation, while maintaining flexibility, adaptability and sense of purpose.
True sustainability is being in harmony with nature by learning to participate as co-creators in the immense beauty of life. The more we open ourselves up to our inner nature, our local neighborhood and the wider world around us the more we attune with the wisdom in our midst. The diversity of our individuality is what makes for the richness and resilience of our collectivity. This communal, cultural and soulful wisdom is as relevant for politics, as it is for sustainable business, as it is for community regeneration.
In short, nature’s inspiration can help us re-align minds, hearts and souls. It helps us remember that we are expressions within a deeper matrix of Nature. The bright future of business lies in its scientific, sensuous and soulful understanding of Nature’s wisdom beyond the confines of yesterday’s divisive logic of dog-eat-dog competition and anthropocentric separateness. As Aristotle, Einstein, Da Vinci, Confucius and many other profound minds knew, to be in harmony with Nature is to embody the wisdom within and all around us beyond reductive, mechanistic logic, whereupon our left and right brain hemisphere’s and head and heart cohere. This is when we Homo sapiens live up to our name of wise beings.
Here is a link to a short video of a talk Giles Hutchins gave in London recently.